Category: On This Day

Eight Strangest Berlin Wall Escapes

As of Monday the 5th of February 2018, the Berlin Wall will have been down for longer than it stood: 28 years, 3 months, and 28 days. Erected on the 13th of August 1961, The Wall divided Berlin for 28 years during the Cold War and claimed the lives of, as official records currently state, 140 people, until its fall on the 9th November 1989. What started as a ramshackle border fence, comprising mostly of barbed wire and concrete posts, would be continually expanded into a 157-kilometre long fortress consisting of two walls with an armoured ‘no-man’s-land’ running in between – nicknamed, with characteristic German candour, the ‘Death Strip’. Unlike the no-mans land of the First World War, the control zone of the Berlin Wall was entirely in the territory of one power - East Germany - a country determined to stop the flow of citizens escaping West across its…

On This Day: Luftwaffe pilot makes history by escaping in ejector seat (13th January 1942)

[caption id="attachment_4627" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Luftwaffe Heinkel He-280[/caption] Whilst at the controls of a Heinkel He-280 (pictured above) jet fighter being towed by another aircraft, Luftwaffe pilot Helmut Schenck realised he was unable to start his engines due to cold interference. Jettisoning his canopy, he activated his ejector seat and made history as the first person to use an ejector seat to successfully exit an aircraft in an emergency. Schenck wasn't the first to use this method of exiting his aircraft as such. Another Heinkel pilot had previously ejected successfully but under test conditions. From the time of Schenck’s successful escape to the end of World War II three years later, approximately 60 Luftwaffe airmen ejected from their planes in combat situations. The aircraft and the seat were developed by the Heinkel Aircraft Works as Nazi Germany continued to experiment with jet propulsion systems and the ejection seat mechanisms necessary for a pilot to…

On this day: Friedrich Engels, Prussian political theorist and ‘gravedigger of capitalism’, is born (28th November 1820)

In 1842, the 22-year-old Friedrich Engels travelled to tend to family business near Manchester, England. Sent by his father to protect the family investment in a cotton manufacturing firm in Salford, with the added paternal hope that exposing his son to the realities of business would rid him of his increasingly radical leanings. Instead, Engels witnessed the misery and desperation that had arrived on the banks of the river Irk. As the steam engine and mechanised textile production had spread across Great Britain and continental Europe in the early 19th century, a new epoch of industrialisation had arrived. The dilapidation, unsanitary conditions, and personal estrangement threatening public health and gruelling labour, meagre pay, and long hours expected of workers proved hard to ignore. [caption id="attachment_4391" align="alignright" width="300"] The family business in Manchester, the offices of Ermen and Engels' Victoria Mill[/caption] Born in 1820, in what was then the kingdom of Prussia,…

On this day: Napoleon Boneparte announces the Berlin Decree (21st November 1806)

Britain and France have fought each other often over the centuries and were at war with each other in the early 1800s. Following the defeat of Napoleon's navy by the British at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October 1805, the French Emperor realised that he had no chance of successfully invading the island nation so sought another approach to bring his enemy to its knees. From 16th May 1806, the British navy blockaded ports along the coastline of Continental Europe, from Brest to the estuary of the river Elbe, but having defeated the Prussian army at Jena and Auerstädt on 14th October 1806, Napoleon entered the city of Berlin on 27th October 1806 and set about planning the defeat of his arch enemy, Great Britain. Aware that Great Britain depended heavily on its trading abilities to sustain its position in the world, Napoleon realised that if he could deny his foe opportunities…

On this day: The RIAS Symphony Orchestra is founded (15th November 1946)

  Following the end of World War Two, the US military administration in Allied occupied Berlin founded the RIAS (Radio in the American Sector) to balance the broadcasts emanating from the Soviet controlled Berliner Rundfunk. This new station went live in February 1946, initially via telephone line only, until a medium wave transmitter could be introduced in September. On 15th November 1946, the RIAS Symphony Orchestra was established to contribute to the station's entertainment programme, later joined by the RIAS Chamber Choir, the RIAS Dance Orchestra and the RIAS Big Band. In 1956 after the Americans pulled the funding for RIAS, Sender Freies Berlin (or Radio Free Berlin) took the symphony orchestra under its wing, renaming it the Radio-Symphonie-Orchester-Berlin, based in the Western zone of the divided city. Following reunification in the 1990s, Berlin found itself with two radio symphony orchestras, leading to yet another name change, to the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester (DSO), reflecting…

On this day: Philosopher G.W.F. Hegel dies (14th November 1831)

“What experience and history teaches us is that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.” A quote that continues to be as relevant today as when it was penned. The words are of the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel who, having died 186 years ago, makes one wonder about human progress as the philosopher did himself. Hegel died in Berlin after leading a life of academic ascension in Germany that culminated in the position of head of the University of Berlin. Born on the 27th August 1770 in Stuttgart, he was the oldest child of a bureaucrat. During his adolescence, Hegel’s love for intellectual thought began to manifest through his consumption and synthesis of a wide range of texts, including by the poet Klopstock and Enlightenment thinkers, such as Christian Garve and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. His love for philosophy shaped his…

The German 9/11 – the ‘Day of Fate’

On a crisp autumn evening in 2014, I stood overlooking the path the Berlin Wall once traced as it wound around the British, French and US occupation zones of West Berlin like a concrete lariat. Breaking with precedent established at previous muted celebrations, the German government had decided to organise a unique spectacle to mark the 25th anniverary of the sudden & unexpected redundancy of the world's most famous wall. [caption id="attachment_4283" align="alignleft" width="300"] Berlin Wall Lichtgrenze, 2014[/caption] On 9th November 2014, thousands of illuminated balloons on slender stands, stood equal height as the former internal barrier of the German Democratic Republic, lined a 15km route through Berlin, passing the site of the main ceremony at the Brandenburg Gate. Following perfomances by Peter Gabriel and Udo Lindenberg, and to the strained tones of a rendition of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, the balloons were released one-by-one to soar into the night-sky. Like…

On this day: The Berlin Airlift officially ends

[caption id="attachment_4160" align="alignleft" width="770"] C47s at Templehof Airlift for Berlin Airlift[/caption] On this day: The Berlin Airlift officially ends (30th September 1949) Following disagreements over the introduction of the Deutsche Mark in then occupied Germany, Soviet forces initiated a blockade of West Berlin in June 1948, limiting access via road, rail and water, to the British, French and US zones of the divided city. Resolving to support the isolated Western zones of Berlin and counter the Soviet chokehold by flying in essential supplies, the Western allies, primarily under US auspices, undertook one of the greatest logistical feats in history. At a cost of more than $200 million and the lives of 101 airmen and crew, over 2.3 million tons of food, fuel, machinery and other supplies reached West Berlin, mainly transported by C-47 and C-54 cargo planes, in the space of 15 months. Over 270,000 flights were recorded and at the…

On this day: Berlin’s monumental Neue Synagoge opens

On this day: Berlin's monumental Neue Synagoge opens with a ceremony marking the Jewish New Year (September 5th 1866) Consecrated in the presence of Prussian minister president and future German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, the Neue Synagoge once served Berlin's thriving Jewish community as one of the largest synagogues in the world. A pioneering example of iron construction, highly unusual for the time, the synagogue is still recognisable by its distinctive Moorish style, colourful brick facade, and the three bulbous gilded domes that crown the structure. Impressionist painter and president of the Prussian Academy of Arts Max Liebermann was once a member of the congregation. Albert Einstein performed two violin concertos metformin online inside the building for charity in 1930. The world's first female rabbi Regina Jonas lectured at the synagogue before being deported to Auschwitz and murdered. Ransacked by SA troops in November 1938 during the November Pogrom (Kristallnacht),…

On this day: Günter Litfin is killed trying to escape to West Berlin

[caption id="attachment_4000" align="alignleft" width="1024"] Günter Litfin is killed trying to escape to West Berlin following the construction of the Berlin Wall[/caption] On this day: Günter Litfin becomes the first person to be shot and killed whilst trying to escape to West Berlin following the construction of the Berlin Wall (August 24th 1961) As one of thousands of Berliners who regularly commuted across the border of the divided city, Günter Litfin dreamt of becoming a successful clothes designer. After completing his apprenticeship as a tailor in East Berlin he found work in an atelier near Bahnhof Zoo and soon began making a reputation for himself working with some of the most glamorous names in West Berlin showbusiness. Life as a Grenzgänger (border jumper) was dangerous but not without its rewards. Working in the West meant Litfin could count his days in highly desired Westmark, whilst maintaining a certain level of comfort…